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August 6, 2021

Systems of Needs, Shreya Kaipa, BArch ’23

by shreyakaipa

August 6, 2021

Teo and Margarita enjoying Ladoos I made for vendors on a market day! Ladoos are an Indian sweet; these are made with dates and sesame seeds.

My partnership with the growers and organization of Sankofa has certainly been challenging but an incredible learning opportunity. As I reflect on the past weeks, I diagramed the process I’ve been following to help myself understand the cycle I’ve been practicing.

Pattern Observation > Project Imagination > Challenges Arise. Relationship building in the center

I use “Project Imagination” as an alternative to “Solution”. I find this word choice focuses the goal as intentional responses to needs, over a problem-solution mindset.

An example was the recent sign I painted for the market! This year’s market has been a little slower than past years, and so I took on the opportunity to repaint the old market sign to be a permanent stay on the lawn.

In addition, many of the vendors and customers use plastic bags to hold their market coins (which they trade in for EBT). I asked a friend studying Textiles at RISD if they’d be able to make reusable coinbags; which they graciously did with scrap fabric. It brought the vendors so much joy, and in exchange, many free veggies for us!

Simple language for signage, to be translated into 3 languages. Sketch of illustration that could support message.

As I get to know vendors and growers by helping them in the garden or market, I have begun to notice patterns that contribute to a lack of abundance. For example, there is general disrespect from outsiders in the neighborhood to the garden. Stealing (of produce) occurs frequently, and working men drink and sleep in the garden at night. Many older women care for their beds on early mornings, and often have to confront these men. 

Sankofa was born with the intention to activate “blighted” urban lots by growing food. I’ve noticed a few abandoned lots, where a public garden could revitalize the space and offer an opportunity for those stealing. This would also foster positive relationships between those in need and growers. In this unused space, they could receive discounted produce and learn how to grow produce.

It’s important to note, theft also occurs between growers. The beds currently in Sankofa are distinguished by grower names, which may be leading to misunderstandings about garden bed ownership through language and cultural differences. The new growing space could be an opportunity for the growers to work with one another to tend for the whole garden together. Instead of beds divided by growers, they would be identified by produce kind.

Plan diagram of public garden/outreach space

Through conversations, I realized this ambition was a longer term project, due to the resources, permits, and outreach needed to bring it to fruition. And so I searched for another idea that would be feasible for the time and resources I have. 

Through conversations with advisors, I found that narrowing my focus on the grower needs might help with the challenge of constraints. When I meet growers in the garden, it is rare that more than one is tending to their plants at the same time. When there are 2 or 3 growers at a time, they keep to themselves and don’t typically interact with others. When I spoke to Ana, one of the women, about stealing, she expressed anger and frustration, but expressed she would never confront the thief, even though she has witnessed them.  

I am currently planning a signage project and system that could help grow stronger relationships between the women and mitigate stealing within the garden. Below are sketches that illustrate a grower with more knowledge sharing advice and produce with another grower.

The biggest challenge of the summer so far, has been engagement. I was originally hoping to work with this community to design an intervention; however, good places are created through tried systems and relationships. With language and scheduling differences between growers, I found this to be a much longer project for another opportunity. So instead, I’ve been focusing on one-on-one conversations, drawing, and strategic thinking seeking to illustrate what the women are asking for.


On a side note, I have been organizing a youth-led street mural project with student activism groups in Providence! This is from a recent design workshop where students were brainstorming ideas.

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